This past weekend, I joined Denver K-Life for their Fall Retreat in Estes Park. From 2006-2009, I worked with these same students in south Denver so I know how hard it is for them to commit to a full weekend retreat away from academics, sports, and a million other duties pulling for their time and attention.
I was impressed when 100 students and leaders showed up Friday afternoon and packed out an entire chartered bus and several suburbans in order to get away for a weekend together in the mountains. After everyone loaded the bus, the staff came around and collected cell phones. You should've heard the arguments and ensuing debates as high school students tried to convince the staff this was a bad idea. But before the bus and cars drove off the lot, everyone was unplugged from their devices!
That's when I knew this could be a BIG weekend.
For 12 years now, I've seen the consequences of unplugging yourself from the world in order to solely focus on the community of people around you and your common desire to follow Jesus.
The consequences are devastating:
-people have to look each other in the eyes
-you have to carry on long conversations
-you start to talk about meaningful things
-you start to learn more about each other
-you start to learn more about yourself
-you hear God's voice better because you remove the noise of life back home
-you become honest and open
-you develop true friendships
As I opened the weekend with the students, I asked them to raise the bar of expectations. I asked them to allow each other the freedom to be themselves. I asked them to allow each other to ask any question they like and accept it. I asked them to commit to confidentiality and not allow what they share to come back to haunt them in the hallways on Monday morning.
When we set the bar high and allow students the freedom to be themselves, to ask the hard questions about faith and life, and to commit to sharing our lives with each other without judgment, I continually find that students will rise to the occasion. They are looking for a place where they can be free, where no question is taboo, where no one will spread lies or slander you after finding out who you really are and what you really struggle with.
At the end of our weekend, I saw a group of senior guys wake up at 6:30am to share with each other their honest struggles. I saw a student come up to me in tears the final morning and say, "Thank you! I need to hear everything you said." His heart was starting to be set free when he realized he didn't have to hold everything in but could share his struggles with others.
I was reminded this weekend of the devastating consequences of developing REAL GENUINE HONEST community. It sets us free. It helps us see the tangible presence of Christ. He is found in the love we have for each other. We are freed to love God all the more. Don't get me wrong. It is definitely hard. It definitely awakens our deepest fears. It can bring us to tears. It leaves us vulnerable when we can't hide behind our phones or a busy schedule. But I consistently see that genuine community is what we all desire. It's okay for it to get a little messy in order for it to get real. Because we can finally realize together that all of our lives are messy.
We don't have to live this life alone!
No one should settle for this kind of life. We can "unplug" from all the screens and schedules that distance us from truly knowing one another. We can enter into community with each other. I saw 100 students and leaders from Denver K-Life do it this weekend. I see 1,000 students and staff do it every summer at KIVU. We just have to be willing to set the bar high and go there together.